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About this poet

Jay Parini was born on April 2, 1948, in Pittston, Pennsylvania, and was raised in Scranton. He earned his AB in 1970 from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. During his junior year, he studied abroad at the University of Saint Andrews, Scotland, where he immediately returned after graduating from Lafayette to receive his PhD in 1975. It was during his time at the University of Saint Andrews that he began writing poetry. He published his first book of poems, Singing in Time (J. W. B. Laing, 1972), when he was a student there.

In 1975, Parini returned to the United States and began his academic career as an assistant English professor and director of the creative writing program at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Two years later, he cofounded the New England Review with Sydney Lea. He later moved to Vermont, where he began his tenure as D. E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College in 1982.

Parini’s poetry collections include The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems (Braziller, 2005), House of Days (Henry Holt, 1998), Town Life (Henry Holt, 1988), and Anthracite Country (Random House, 1982). His newest collection, West Mountain Epilogue, is forthcoming from Beacon Press.

Also a novelist, biographer, editor, and critic, Parini has written biographies of John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, and William Faulkner. His most recent novels include The Passages of H. M.: A Novel of Herman Melville (Doubleday, 2010), The Apprentice Lover (Harper Perennial, 2003), Benjamin’s Crossing (Holt, 1996), and The Last Station (Holt, 1990), which was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film.

Parini has received honorary degrees from Lafayette College and the University of Scranton and fellowships from Christ Church at Oxford University, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the School of Advanced Study (Institute of English Studies) at the University of London.

He currently teaches at Middlebury College and lives with his wife in Weybridge, Vermont.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems (Braziller, 2005)
House of Days (Henry Holt and Co., 1998)
Town Life (Henry Holt and Co., 1988)
Anthracite Country (Random House, 1982)
Singing in Time (J. W. B. Laing, 1972)

Fiction

The Passages of H. M.: A Novel of Herman Melville (Doubleday, 2010)
The Apprentice Lover (Harper Perennial, 2003)
Benjamin’s Crossing (Henry Holt and Co., 1996)
The Last Station (Henry Holt and Co., 1990)
The Love Run (Blue Moon Books, 1989)
The Patch Boys (Henry Holt and Co., 1986)

Nonfiction

Jesus: The Human Face of God (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)
Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America (Doubleday, 2008)
Why Poetry Matters (Yale University Press, 2008)
The Art of Teaching (Oxford University Press, 2005)
One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner (Harper Collins, 2004)
Robert Frost: A Life (Henry Holt and Co., 1999)
Some Necessary Angels (Columbia University Press, 1997)
John Steinbeck: A Biography (Henry Holt and Co., 1995)
An Invitation to Poetry (Prentice-Hall, 1987)
Theodore Roethke, an American Romantic (University of Massachusetts Press, 1979)

 

Lament of the Middle Man

Jay Parini, 1948
In late October in the park
the autumn's faults begin to show:
the houses suddenly go stark
beyond a thinning poplar row;
the edges of the leaves go brown
on every chestnut tree in town.

The honking birds go south again
where I have gone in better times;
the hardy ones, perhaps, remain
to nestle in the snowy pines.
I think of one bold, raucous bird
whose wintry song I've often heard.

I live among so many things
that flash and fade, that come and go.
One never knows what season brings
relief and which will merely show
how difficult it is to span
a life, given the Fall of Man.

The old ones dawdle on a bench,
and young ones drool into their bibs;
an idle boffer, quite a mensch,
moves fast among the crowd with fibs.
A painted lady hangs upon
his word as if his sword was drawn.

Among so many falling fast
I sometimes wonder why I care;
the first, as ever, shall be last;
the last are always hard to bear.
I never know if I should stay
to see what ails the livelong day.

I never quite know how to ask
why some men wear bright, silver wings
while others, equal to the task,
must play the role of underlings.
"It's what you know, not who," they swore.
I should have known what to ignore.

I started early, did my bit
for freedom and the right to pray.
I leaned a little on my wit,
and learned the sort of thing to say,
yet here I am, unsatisfied
and certain all my elders lied.

A middle man in middle way
between the darkness and the dark,
the seasons have tremendous sway:
I change like chestnuts in the park.
Come winter, I'll be branches, bones;
come spring, a wetness over stones.

Copyright © 2011 by Jay Parini. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2011 by Jay Parini. Used with permission of the author.

Jay Parini

Jay Parini

Jay Parini has published multiple collections of poetry, as well as novels, biographies and academic texts. He has received honorary degrees from Lafayette College and the University of Scranton and fellowships from Christ Church at Oxford University, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the School of Advanced Study (Institute of English Studies) at the University of London.